Robinson, who was then in the mid-20s, had been running around a series of low-paid retail jobs when she was teaching the giant factory down the road. The assembly line position came with generous health benefits, an hourly rate more than twice as much as she had done at a men's clothing store, and the promise of safe retirement – if she could continue her job for 30 years.
"It was a completely different world," Robinson, now 50, told CNN Business in late February. "I couldn't believe how lucky I was to make that kind of money without a college exam."
This world has evaporated for decades now. On Wednesday, when the Lordstown plant will make its latest Chevy Cruze and close the doors, it gets even smaller.
For GM, the move is part of an overall strategy to shift from sedans and to higher margin wagons and light SUVs in a period of low gas prices. GM also flows money to electric and autonomous cars, which are still primarily in the research and development phase. And with GM's investment in a ridesharing platform called Maven, the company looks forward to a future where fewer people are driving vehicles at all.
For employees, the transition means uncertainty, dislocation and immersion in a labor market with far fewer opportunities for those without training beyond a high school.
Contrary to the great recession, GM cuts these jobs – along with around 1,400 more hourly positions in US plants elsewhere – at some point as it is profitable and the national economy is strong. It is an indication that GM sees the future as one with fewer factory floor workers, not more of them. And for the Youngstown area it is a particularly symbolic battle to lose the last major supplier of the type jobs that made it a decade ago manufacturing facility.
About 400 of the 1,400 people who are no longer going to work in GM's sprawling Lordstown complex after this week, have accepted transfers to other plants and want to keep healthcare and pensions. Other former workers at the facility, who used to run 24 hours a day, were not so lucky. As the demand for Cruze declined over the past two years, the second and third moves were cut, and 3,000 people were dropped off. Many of them will not be offered the same transfer options that this latter group wants.
GM says 350 Lordstown workers are eligible for retirement, those who transfer will receive $ 30,000 in relocation service, and work to find new employment for anyone who wants it.
"We understand that the decision made is very difficult for this community because it affects people and families," says GM spokesman Daniel Flores to CNN Business. "Unfortunately, customers do not buy the product in a volume that would justify continuing production. Finally, we made the decision at a time when we were able to offer opportunities to people who would continue to work for GM."
Robinson believes she probably has enough seniority to be seated at one of GM's other facilities, such as the metal factory in Cleveland or the transfer plant in Toledo. She dreads the transfer – she must leave her 68-year-old aunt who needs support, as well as the rest of her family and her friends, and the city she's always called at home. But she has little choice: Despite the strongest US labor market in a generation, the economy does not generate the types of jobs that GM offered her as a young woman.
At least not in Youngstown.
"They've got me a choke team. There's nothing I can do," Robinson said. "I make $ 32 an hour. I'm not going to get a $ 12 job an hour. I couldn't survive it at all. I'll get up and go, ride it out, try to get the best concert I can get and be done with them. "
The" Good Old Days "
The loss of General Motors will not be the first time the Youngstown area took a shock to the heart.
It has happened since the sudden fall in the local steel industry in the late 1970s, as competition from cheap imports – and failed in US steelworks to compete – led to nearly 50,000 jobs disappeared within five years .
Throughout that time, the automotive industry some of a lifeline. The Lordstown facility, which opened in 1966, hired thousands of workers, and thousands worked in smaller, independent machinery stores that supplied auto parts to GM.
The GM factory swam locally and gave about $ 2 million a year in tax revenue, said Terry Armstrong, superintendent of Lordstown School District. The Lordstown school campus, with its large lecture halls and a planetarium, was built without debt.
The professional jobs paid far above the market, peaked in the $ 30-hour range, for reasonably humane tasks such as installing seat belts, securing engine brakes or forklift trucks. Former GM employee Tom Albright, who retired in 2015, remembers being able to do his work faster than the rest of the line and then relax.
"I could get ahead of the job for three hours, and then I could go off for three hours," said Albright, whose son still works in the facility. "They were the good old days. It's no longer so. They get every nickel they can out of the person working that job on the floor."
But then, cracks in the American automotive industry, which began with competition from Japanese car manufacturers in the 1980s, began and continued with NAFTA in 1994. Employment went out when work was outsourced to lower-paying suppliers, including factories in Mexico.
The Lordstown plant was not immune to the changes that have affected the workforce to a greater extent.
In 2007, when automakers became bleeding, the union accepted the establishment of a lower wage level for entry-level workers, which meant that they made 45% less an hour and got a 401 (k) plan instead of a guaranteed pension. After GM's bankruptcy in 2009, workers told CNN Business, the job became more difficult, and management pushed for less downtime.
"Slowly but surely, they became less and less thoughtful about those who worked for them," Robinson said. "It's just not the same company I used to work for. It's so much more cutthroat, and it's bad. I know the old GM is gone."
But many in society still realize that they work with families, donate to local charities and buy cars. They also generate other jobs: Since production brings in capital from outside the area rather than just recycling it, each factory position is estimated to have three or four people working in areas such as healthcare, food, retail, and education.
"The only difference is that this time management was not interested in participating," said James Dignan, president of Youngstown / Warren Regional Chamber. "Plant management used to be very committed locally, but they lose some of the tie and it feels from the company to the community."
Dignan said they are working to get another user to the facility if GM decides to give it up permanently.
But it is far better to get another GM product to get another company to the local unions. These are their jobs, and they will probably still have more protection and higher salaries than any other employer.
"We don't want Elon Musk coming in. We don't want Amazon to build a distribution center," said David Green, who has been president of the UAW Local 1112 since May last year. He led another local in the facility in 2007 when the company asked to pay new employees lower wages.
"I supported it because the promise was product and work safety," Green said. "Do what we have to do to keep working, keep our communities and our families alive and thriving. It feels like they betrayed us a little."
Therefore, for those who have the opportunity, the choice to go or live is so agonistic – even though the job had a good share of difficulties.
Tammy Vennitti, 55, was laid off with the second shift back in June last year. She had enrolled for a training course to retain her extraordinary unemployed benefits, and then put those plans on hold in January when GM called back those who had been laid off to fill in for those who moved to other plants.
Vennitti applied for transfer to a factory in Toledo, and she does not know if she gets it or if she would take it if she did, when she lives with her 27-year-old daughter and 18-month-old grandson. But she needs health benefits to pay for the blood pressure games her doctor put on during the stress of being laid off for months, not to mention caring for a body that took a stroke over 24 years of lifting 30 to 40 pounds, 400 times during the day. GM's gold-plated insurance paid for a shoulder replacement, carpal tunnel surgery and cortisone shot for a knee that had no more cartilage to cushion her legs.
"For 24 years I have done nothing for this company and this association, but bend over," Vennitti said. "This is all I've ever done. I never thought it would come to this."
What's Next for Hiring in Youngstown?
There are many training opportunities, since GM workers get help from both the state and the US Department of Commerce through trade adjustment assistance. So far, there has been a lot of interest in trucking, says a state officer in Ohio, as it takes just a few weeks to get and pay relatively well.
Some workers saw the end early and took steps to prepare. Trish Amato, 43, was recruited too late for a traditional pension, reducing the need for a GM job. She used GM's educational benefits to complete her bachelor's degree and gain a master's degree in special education.
When she was laid off in 2018, Amato thought about going to the plant at Spring Hill, Tennessee. But she and her partner, whose truck driving is also working on Lordstown being open, didn't think they could afford renting in the thriving area south of Nashville.
Instead, they think about trading in their large rig for a motorhome and traveling the country, while learning online courses from the road – a future that would not have been possible without GM's help to go to school and that she would not have accepted without the GM relocation of the Lordstown facility.
"GM is hard to get away from because the insurance benefits are awesome," said Amato. "GM gave us a good life. Am I disappointed by what they are doing? "For other people, yes. For me, no. If something like this didn't happen, I wouldn't be able to follow a dream."
For the next generation, the question is what kind of salaries the new work class jobs will pay.
The local high school has started a training program for the logistics industry and helps prepare children for jobs in the many distribution centers that appear in the area. "It's our way of giving the kids a little bit of a leg," said Armstrong, superintendent in Lordstown School District, where about 15% of students have parents working in the facility.
But he said, "I don't see them paying what the GM jobs paid."
But after this last battle, Lordstown students will have confidence in a future in production?
"It would be very difficult to convince many of them right now, with the facility closed," Armstrong said. "They are able to make future cars, we just have to make that chance available."